Penman No. 356: Loverly London (2)

IMG_0602.jpeg

Penman for Monday, June 3, 2019

 

TO PUT it one way, the United Kingdom is the kind of place where the money looks too pretty to spend, especially the duotone one-pound and two-pound coins. But you better have a lot of it, and be prepared to let go—unless, like Beng and me, you thrive on the low end of things, which can come for next to nothing, if not for free.

As I’ve often mentioned here, Beng and I are inveterate flea market fanatics, and one reason we travel so much isn’t to pose beside the landmarks as nearly everyone else does, but to scour the flea markets, thrift shops, and garage sales of the world for the glorious stuff others see as junk—or maybe don’t see at all. From New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, Amsterdam’s Waterlooplein, and Barcelona’s Encants to Paris’ Clignancourt, Singapore’s Sungei, and Beijing’s Panjiayuan, we’ve been there and done that.

IMG_0285.jpeg

As it happens, we’ve yet to find a city as full of flea markets as London. On the weekends, you can easily find a dozen of them hawking everything from vintage Gladstone bags and Victorian silverware to paisley shirts from the ‘60s and ancient Roman coins. Beng usually looks for little silver baubles and I, of course, look for pens, old books, and anything to do with writing.

London is also charity and thrift-shop heaven, and every square mile you’d be guaranteed to find at least one Oxfam, British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research, Norwood, Barnardo’s, or British Red Cross shop, often right next to another. Being fairly large for a Pinoy, I don’t mind saying that nearly everything I wear on top comes from some ukay-ukay or resale shop, so London’s flea markets and thrift shops are always a chance to pick up well-cut shirts and blazers for a tenth or less of what they would go for on the High Street.

IMG_0238.jpeg

And true enough, London delivered in spades. Portobello Road is every tourist’s idea of a weekend bargain paradise (thanks to the Notting Hill movie—Hugh Grant’s bookshop at #142 is now a shoe shop), but the fact is that even more interesting and affordable markets can be found at Deptford, Brick Lane, and Islington, among others.

IMG_0281.jpeg

I did have a good chat with an antiques dealer named Nicholas on Portobello Road. He came over to me when he saw me craning my neck at the awesome pile of vintage typewriters he kept in one of his stalls. Even if I had to tell him that I couldn’t possibly drag one of those beauties home in my luggage, he seemed happy to meet someone—a Filipino at that—who understood how lovely and valuable his Erikas and Bar-Lets were.

IMG_0294.jpeg

Of course I couldn’t leave London without buying a pen or two. A tip from Nicholas led me to the Jubilee Antiques Market which happens at Covent Garden every Monday. The dealers set up as early as 5 am, and we were there at 7, me scouting the stalls for tubular objects, Beng interviewing a licensed mudlark (someone who pokes around the banks of the Thames) about his finds. I came away with a prize for £25, haggled down from £30—a rare brass prototype of the iconic Parker 75.

But more than markets, London is mecca for museum rats, which Beng and I also are, and while we’ve been there before and seen literally the same old things, we took in and reveled at the Sutton Hoo masks and the Egyptian mummies at the British Museum all over again, before hopping over to the Tate Modern at the South Bank for a mind-blowing exhibition of paintings from the Weimar Republic and highly inventive political art from the present. What impressed us even more were the guided tours for children at the Tate, their early exposure to the complexity of the modern mind. (Most London museums are free and open all week.)

IMG_0588.jpeg

IMG_0566.jpeg

IMG_0572.jpeg

We reserved our last stop in London for a treat I had been anticipating for ages: a return to the British Library and to its exhibit of its treasures, ranging from old Bibles, the Magna Carta, and pre-modern maps to a special section on the Beatles. I was struck by how neat, orderly, and indeed unfailingly precise the ancient manuscripts were, as you might have expected of sacred texts, such as the Codex Sinaiticus, its every word hand-inscribed in the 4thcentury but looking as sharp and as fresh as this morning’s paper. Contrast that to the vigorous scrawls, scribbles, and cross-outs of modern writers—including the Beatles, who wrote letters and lyrics with a schoolboyish disregard for form and order: the draft of “Michelle” on the front of an envelope, that of “A Hard Day’s Night” on a greeting card. Elsewhere, Sylvia Plath sends a poem to a publisher in long hand.

d7bbdbf04633e0c9431f751041ddf1d6.jpg

IMG_0327.jpeg

Words, decades, and centuries come alive in London—not just in the library or museum but on the street, which makes yet another visit worth yearning for.

Penman No. 355: Loverly London (1)

IMG_0319.jpeg

Penman for Monday, May 27, 2019

 

I FIRST visited London 25 years ago, on my way to Scotland to take up residence at Hawthornden Castle on the fellowship that led to Penmanship and Other Stories. Since then I’ve been back a few times—very often in 1999-2000, when again I was a writing fellow at Norwich. It’s easily my favorite city in the world to visit, given its cultural vitality and the accessibility of the things that matter most to me—museums, galleries, and flea markets—and for the past two decades, Beng and I had been dreaming of returning to London to step back into our old haunts.

That finally came true on the heels of our recent Scotland trip with our daughter Demi and her husband Jerry; they flew back to home and work in California, so Beng and I had a full week to ourselves, and wisely we decided to just spend almost all of that time in London, except for an overnighter in nearby Chelmsford and Norwich. As with 20 years ago, we did everything by train and by Oyster card (“contactless” is a new English word you’ll learn quickly just out of Heathrow). There’s nothing like a train ride into the English countryside and its undulating greens awakened now and then by brilliant yellow swathes of rapeseed to make one understand Wordsworth and Romanticism, in the same way that Glasgow’s sooty masonry and steel sinews recall a darker, Dickensian industrial past.

9101e10824ce12963ec78a189abcd3c22e091785.jpg

Speaking of Dickens, and like many Pinoys my age, my first impression of London was shaped by Broadway’s and Hollywood’s renditions of its Victorian upside and downside, in such confections as “Oliver Twist” and “Mary Poppins” (from which the screech of my schoolboy crush, Julie Andrews, still resonates, appealing for “a room somewhere, far a-wigh from the cold night air…. Awww, wouldn’t it be loverly?”).

Well, thanks to Booking.com, Beng and I found ourselves a loverly, affordable room in a large house in the northwestern London suburb of Golders Green—a neat and quiet, multicultural neighborhood on the Tube’s Northern Line, historically Jewish but with many Turkish, Iranian, and Japanese restaurants and groceries lining the streets. And, of course, there were Filipinos everywhere, not tourists like us (you’ll find them at Harrods) but off-duty caregivers and housekeepers enjoying time together at the local KFC.

IMG_0329.jpeg

That’s where we met someone we’ll call Thelma, who has worked for the same Jewish employer for the past ten years. It just so happened that she and Beng had some mutual friends from Iloilo, where Thelma went to college. “I’m treated very well here,” Thelma said. “Every year I get a paid vacation to go home.” We spotted another unmistakably Pinay girl at the streetcorner selling suman, which we had for our next breakfast. And at the end of a long Sunday walk down Portobello Road, in a cluster of street-food stalls offering everything from vegan paella to Jamaican patties, we found Eva Caparanga’s Pinoy Grill UK, which instantly answered the question we had been asking all day, “What are we having for dinner tonight?” As she heaped our chicken adobo into a large takeout cup, Eva told us that she had been in the UK for more than 30 years, and was still working in health care, but that for the past three years she had used her days off to run her stall at the far end of the popular Portobello Market. “People ask me why I do this, and I tell them it’s so I can help family back home in Bicol. And again they ask me why I do that, and I say, well, that’s just how we Filipinos are!”

IMG_0618.JPG

The story of Filipinos in the UK and London is a long and colorful one, and I can’t count the many times they came to my succor during my tenure at Norwich and my weekend sorties to London years ago. When my feet acquired a horrible infection in Norwich, I ran to the National Health Service, only to find it staffed by kindly Pinoy nurses who got me back to walking in no time. In London, my host was the late, beloved Ed Maranan, who had ushered at the National Theatre and could sneak me into plays for free; in return, I made sure to wash the dishes at his flat on Goldhawk Road. The writer Jun Terra also brought me around once to marvel at the late Dr. Teyet Pascual’s art pieces in his Chelsea apartment.

This time, Beng and I were resolved to stay close to ground level, having neither the budget nor the inclination to splurge on the timelesss luxury that puts British-made things—whether they be suits, shoes, bags, or fountain pens—in a class all by themselves. This time, we said, we would go straight for the two things that we enjoy most in our sorties to foreign cities: flea markets and museums.

More on these next week.

IMG_0269.jpeg

Penman No. 306: Minding the Magazine (1)

IMG_6689

Penman for Monday, June 11, 2018

 

IF YOU collect old books like I do, the chances are that you’ll be picking up more than books as you scour the Web, garage sales, and library throwaways for that elusive first edition or that childhood textbook. I’m referring, of course, to other printed matter such as magazines journals, posters, and maps, but also to manuscripts, letters, and such other ephemera as restaurant receipts, plane tickets, and school report cards (yes, I collect those, too).

Books—especially good ones—tend to exude a certain timelessness about them, maybe because they’re meant to be read beyond the present. They like to lay down general (and, authors like to think, immutable) principles of life, of art and science, of philosophy. The characters of fiction may live in the moment—whether it be in Charles Dickens’ London or William Gibson’s matrix—but the context, implicitly, is forever.

Magazines, on the other hand, are typically meant for no higher purpose than to capture the instant—this week, this month—in all its topical and pictorial variety. When I pick them up, it’s not because they’re going to reveal to me some eternal verity (although that might sometimes happen), but because they’ll show me exactly what people were wearing on June 11, 1898 or what the price of a Parker 51 was in August 1947. Newspapers, of course, can bring everything down almost literally to the very hours and minutes of what eventually becomes history, but magazines have just a bit more of a leisurely sweep, making them ideal for doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms, beauty parlors, and barber shops.

IMG_6723

It was in a barber shop in Pasig, back in the mid-‘60s, that I first got to read about people like Jose Garcia Villa in The Philippines Free Press while getting my head shaved for PMT. I didn’t understand his poetry then (and maybe I still don’t), but I was mighty impressed by what I remember him saying, in so many words: “There’s only one literary genius born every thousand years, and I’m sorry for everyone else, but for these thousand years, that’s me.”

The Free Pressand its literary pages became staple reading for me, but I also devoured the Graphic, the Sunday Times Magazine, Life, TIME, Newsweek, National Geographic, and whatever I could get my hands on at the public library (including, away from prying eyes, women’s magazines—and a bit later on in life, magazines with, uhm, women).

These memories came swarming back to me a couple of weeks ago as I received several bound collections of magazines from the 1960s—the Mirror Magazine, the Manila Chronicle Magazine, and Action Now, among others. They’ll join a large pile of Sunday Tribune Magazine issues from the late 1930s and 1940s that I’d acquired more than 20 years ago from a seller who was disposing boxes of them. Sadly, most of them have crumbled (this was before I became more serious about collecting and more organized). While I’ve gently turned away people offering busloads of National Geographic and LIFE (just as I routinely decline offers of family Bibles, law books, and encyclopedias), I’ve sought out samples of historically important or just plain interesting magazines to round out my collection.

One of the reasons I began my antiquarian collection was to be able to show my literature students—in real life, and not just in some Googled picture—what people were reading way back when. For example, when we discuss American literature during the time of the Benjamin Franklin, what would the literate Bostonian or Philadelphian have held in his or her hands?

IMG_6691

As it happens, I have the answer to that, thanks to a bit of instruction from my professor in Bibliography back in Wisconsin, Dr. James Kuist, whose type of final exam was to ask us (in those pre-Internet, pre-Google days), “If the year is 1662, and I’m a member of the Royal Society, what books would I likely have on my shelves?” Jim did his doctoral dissertation on the history of one particular publication—indeed, the very first one of its kind to call itself a magazine (derived from the French for “storehouse”)—The Gentleman’s Magazine, founded by a cobbler’s son named Edward Cave in January 1731. It became immensely popular, made Cave (also known by his pen name Sylvanus Urban) a rich man, and was published uninterrupted until 1922.

I pretty much forgot about Dr. Kuist and The Gentleman’s Magazine until recently, when I realized that there were actual copies (not reproductions) available on eBay. The issue I secured comes from November 1773, and is a special issue devoted to “The FRUGAL HOUSEWIFE, Or Complete WOMAN COOK…. including various bills of fare for dinners and suppers, in every month in the year, and a copious index to the whole.” (And before you think otherwise, The Gentleman’s Magazine did not have a centerfold or anything of the sort; it would have been, well, ungentlemanly.)

I was searching for issues ca. 1763-64, which should have had reports on the British occupation of Manila, and I do have two issues of The London Magazine, from September 1763 and February 1764. But while they have gruesome stories about Englishmen being captured and burnt by the Indians (“The blood which flowed from him almost extinguished the fire”), and other reports from the empire, they say nothing about the Philippines.

Next week, we’ll look at two Filipino magazines from August 1913 and April 1949.

 

 

 

 

 

Penman No. 203: Another Filipino Winner at the IPSC

unnamed.jpg

Penman for Monday, June 13, 2016

 

EVERY MAY, at Dartmouth House in London, about 60 young men and women from all over the world gather to represent their respective countries at the International Public Speaking Competition (IPSC). Sponsored by the English Speaking Union (ESU), the IPSC is the world’s premier public speaking event for young people, bringing together the best minds of their generation to share their ideas about the planet’s most pressing concerns.

The Philippines has been sending representatives to the IPSC since 2002, and was granted International Charter Membership in October 2005. As a country we have performed superlatively, producing two world champions and at least four semifinalists. This 2016, I’m very happy to report that we notched another spectacular achievement, with Marco del Valle being named global first runner-up, after the representative from Mexico.

Just 20 and a Business Administration junior at UP Diliman, Marco is no stranger to competition, having already won six titles in business and marketing competitions, including the Henkel Innovation Challenge in Vienna, where he and his partner represented the Philippines and also placed second. Marco’s success comes as the latest in a long string of stellar finishes for young Filipino public speakers at the IPSC.

In 2004, 17-year-old Patricia Evangelista stunned everyone when she was named IPSC champion, presaging a successful career in print and broadcast journalism. In 2008, Gian Karlo Dapul became our second world champion at the IPSC, besting 57 other participants from 35 countries—an achievement made even more remarkable by the fact that he was only a Philippine Science High School senior then, competing against mostly college students. (The third-place winner that year, Rajab Ali Sayed of Pakistan, turned out to be half-Filipino.) In 2012, Bryan Chua made it to the semifinals, as did Germaine Chuabio in 2011, and Ervim Charles Orbase in 2010. (In 2012, Hong Kong’s representative in the finals, Ramon Joseph Valentin Romano, was actually a Filipino born of migrant parents.)

This year’s Philippine participation at the IPSC was made possible by the generous support of longtime partners Pilipinas Shell and Far Eastern University, led respectively by Ed Chua and Lourdes Montinola, who both sit on the board of ESU-Philippines. ESU-Philippines Chairperson Gigi Virata and President Marlu Vilches ably led this year’s selection process, along with ESU-Philippines regulars Linda Panlilio, Krip Yuson, and myself. As elated as we were by Marco’s performance, our joy was overshadowed by the recent and unexpected passing of two ESU-Philippine stalwarts—Ambassador Cesar Bautista, our chairman emeritus, and Loline Reed, who had very patiently and kindly guided our representatives in London, along with her husband Ken.

This year’s theme for the IPSC finals was “Integrity has no need of rules,” and Marco drew deeply on his personal experience to address the topic, declaring at one point that “Too often, we demonize people… who don’t live by our religious or social rules. But moral integrity isn’t about obeying rules. It’s about recognizing the fact that while we all make mistakes, we’re all capable of rising above them.”

He explains further: “Overall, my speech was about my relationship with my family, particularly my mother. In the speech (which is the same speech I gave for the national finals), I talked about the sacrifices my mother made in the face of different social norms, the same sacrifices that millions of people make every day. I talk about how our culture stigmatizes families who don’t fit the norm, and how that makes it harder for these families to function. I conclude, however, that the sacrifices we make for those we love will always outweigh any rules or social norms we might break.

“I’d have to say that my favorite part of the whole experience was getting to know the other contestants and hearing their stories. It’s one thing to place countries on a map, but it’s an entirely different thing to actually be roommates with someone from Serbia, to learn about Moroccan weddings and Estonian startup culture, and to hear stories of African democracy as told by someone from Ghana.

“As we went through the competition, I think the feeling we all got as contestants was that we weren’t competing against each other as much as we were sharing our own experiences. I was really happy to be able to show a bit of my culture to the world and share what makes Filipino culture special. Yet when you hear speech after speech from so many brilliant young minds around the world, you start to realize that there’s really not that much which separates us from other countries: we share the same dreams, the same fears, and the same ambitions. Above all, this is what I think the ESU IPSC really helped showcase: that it’s possible to celebrate our differences as individuals and as nations, while also respecting and recognizing the things we have in common. And in a world where fear and intolerance are rapidly becoming the political weapons of choice, I think it’s a lesson more people should learn.

“When I entered this competition, all I really hoped for was the chance to share my story and talk the causes I believe in. Thankfully, I’ve been given the chance to do so much more. Winning 1st runner-up is, for me, more than just a personal accomplishment. It’s a chance to show the world that the Filipino spirit is capable of anything.”

Marco’s IPSC experience mirrors that of his predecessors, most of whom have gone on to distinguished careers in public service, media, education, and business. Dr. Renzo Guinto of UP Manila, our IPSC representative in 2008, recalls that “I learned to understand, appreciate, and respect cultures and perspectives that are different from my own, which in turn bolstered my sense of empathy. I could say that the ESU contest played a crucial part in preparing me to become the global health advocate that I am today.”

Ryan Kaliph Buenafe, who as an FEU student was our first IPSC contestant in 2002 and who now serves as Global E-Learning Manager for the TelePerformance Group, attests that “The ESU content was about practice, revisions, then more practice and more revisions. Preparing for it meant that I had to tell a compelling story and message in a limited amount of time and engage the audience so they would be inspired by my story. This is not easy when you’re young. There’s no Wikipedia or Google shortcut. I had to work hard, then practice and revise. This is, as I have found out as an adult, a great preparation for life. We practice what we do so we can do it better and allow others to share their greatness (such as Dr. Jimmy Abad and Krip Yuson who helped me improve and revise my speech). It is our small but significant opportunity to share with the world, on a global stage, the story of our people and our selves…. If we are to learn from history and combat terrorism and hate, we need to connect as one people. ESU is a forum where such a connection is made possible and it has been the greatest experience of my youth.”

We can only hope that more young Filipinos like Marco will emerge to speak for the Philippines on the global stage and be heard for what they have to share. Mabuhay!

image2.PNG

(Photos by Giulia Rampinelli)